Aaron Morrison – Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) – It all started when a black man hit a black man live on Oscar-winning global television, presumably in defense of a black woman who was ridiculed for her hairdo.
But for many black people it was more than a slap or an insult. It was about black men, what is expected of black men in the 21st century – and the attitude towards black women.
A stunning physical altercation between actor Will Smith and comedian Chris Rock at the 94th Academy Awards on Sunday sparked a debate over the right ways for black men to publicly protect black women from humiliation and violence.
While many women have long rejected the misogynistic view that their safety and protection is a man’s business, some believe Smith is defending his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, as a principled act of love and rebuff to those who say black men do not. . do enough to protect black women.
Ianna Abrams, a clinical psychologist and founder of Ascension Behavioral Health in Atlanta, said protection from a husband or partner may be different for every woman.
“For some of us, protection seems like something more insistent in terms of talking to someone,” said Abrams, a member of the Black Girls Smile, a nonprofit organization that deals with the mental health of black girls.
But for many observers, the protection of black women from verbal insults ceases other than physical assault.
Abrams added: “For some people, defending black women would be (Rocco) a joke that didn’t happen. It is also the protection of black women and their bodies, and the way they are viewed in the media. ”
During Sunday’s Oscar broadcast, Smith shocked the Dolby Theater crowd in Los Angeles and millions of viewers when he took the stage after Rock joked, “Jada, I love you. “GI Jane 2” can’t wait to see it. “
It was an unrecorded excavation of Pinkett Smith’s shaved head. The 50-year-old actor spoke publicly about her diagnosis of alopecia, an autoimmune disease that causes hair loss, and the negative impact it can have on a sense of identity and self-esteem. When Pinkett Smith rolled her eyes in displeasure at Rock’s joke, her Oscar-nominated husband took the stage and openly punched the presenter in the face.
Returning to his seat, Smith twice shouted to Rocco, “Don’t say my wife’s name in (pubic) lips.”
Baruch college professor Shelley Eversley said Smith’s speech towards Rock questioned her as to whether the actor’s motivation to slap the comedian was an act of love.
“My wife – say my wife’s name out of mouth – is the logic of owning property,” said Eversley, who is the interim chairman of Baruch’s program to study blacks and Latinos.
“In the history of racial slavery and violence against black women, we can certainly see all the ways in which black women in particular have been treated as property,” she said. “For black men it doesn’t do it better than it does for whites.”
Black men and women in the United States are guided by gender roles, which historians say are linked to the experience of slavery and Jim Crow, at a time when they opposed each other in opposition to a persecutor or authority figure that caused violence or worse. In the midst of legal apartheid and systemic racism, disproportionate poverty and mass imprisonment, generations of black men were brought up in the belief that success in life includes protecting the honor of their spouses and protecting their family from danger in a white-controlled society.
And on its surface, this is not entirely at odds with the expectations placed on generations of white American men as well as men of other ethnic and racial backgrounds.
However, times have changed. Today, behavior such as Smith’s slap at the Oscars is more likely to be condemned as a consequence of an uncontrolled ego than as a righteous defense of a black woman, Eversley said.
“Jada Pinkett (Smith) is not a girl in trouble,” she said. “The idea that Will Smith should be praised for treating her as if she has no voice or no agency of her own is also a problem.”
“The fact that he can get away with such violence on national television, go back to his seat, get an award, and then go to a party,” Eversley continued, “tells me that even tears about defending his wife aren’t really about defending his a wife, but her own ego ”.
As he tearfully accepted his award for Best Actor in King Richard, Smith apologized to the academy and fellow nominees for casting a shadow over an event that, until he hit Rock, was full of historic first acts for colored people, LGBTQ representatives, the Deaf Community, everything takes place in a room where black people fought for representation.
In a statement issued Monday, Smith acknowledged that his behavior “was unacceptable and unacceptable” and apologized to Rocco, whom he was unable to make during his speech.
“Jokes about me are part of the job, but Jade’s joke was too strong for me, and I reacted emotionally,” Smith said. “I’m working under development.”
After condemning the actor’s behavior in a statement Monday, the academy said it would consider if Smith would face other consequences as a member of the academy.
Smith described caring for his loved ones as a kind of mission for life and an act of repentance. In his best-selling memoir, Will, published last fall, he recalled watching his father hit his mother so hard that she fell and spat blood. Smith was 9 years old at the time, and he punished himself for a long time for not defending his mother, even fantasizing about killing his father as an act of revenge.
“Everything I’ve done since then — awards and prizes, attention and attention, characters and laughter — has been a subtle chain of apologies to my mother for my inaction that day,” Smith wrote. at the moment. For not resisting my father. For being a coward. “
Philip Agnew, an activist and co-founder of Black Men Build, a national group focused on empowering and educating black men, said he rejects the racist and perpetuated media idea that black men are less likely to protect or love their spouses and families. and communities than others. But some reactions to Smith’s behavior at the Oscars, especially those who viewed his confrontation with Rock as an example of protecting black women, show how low the bar has been set, he said.
“Protecting black women absolutely involves how we engage in our relationships, both intimate and platonic,” Agnew said. “But it also includes protests against people of all colors and genders who adopt policies that do not protect black women who present TV shows and entertainment programs that are not designed to educate black women.”
“If your real goal was to protect your wife’s honor and integrity, there were probably better ways to do it,” he said of Smith’s actions.
The controversy over the Oscars took place over the weekend, which included a different approach to protecting blacks. Senator Corey Booker, a black Democrat from New Jersey, delivered a widely acclaimed speech rejecting the combat interrogation of his Republican counterpart Judge Kentagee Brown Jackson, who is poised to become the first black woman to be received by the U.S. Supreme Court.
“You have encountered insults that have been shocking to me,” Booker said on the third day of Jackson’s hearing last Wednesday.
“You deserve this place. You are worthy. You are a great American, ”the senator continued, shedding tears at Jackson and the others who listened intently.
Paige Brooks, deputy director of Black Girls Smile, said the conversation about the Oscar-winning incident has some value.
“The story of black women being used as jokes in front of a predominantly white audience, for the sake of laughter and regardless of the humanity of black women and girls, is what this country has been doing for so long,” she said.
“At least people talk about it for good or bad reasons.”
AP writers Ryan Pearson in Los Angeles, Liane Italia, Hillel Italia and Dipty Hajela in New York and Lindsay Whitehurst of Salt Lake City.
Morrison writes about race and justice for the AP race and ethnicity team. Follow him on Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/aaronlmorrison.
Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or distributed without permission.